I’m blessed to have one of the brightest, best, and most vocal Miami Heat fans @Mia_Heat_Index bestow his Miami Heat season preview with us.
Walking papers: Ronny Turiaf, Juwan Howard, Eddy Curry
New to the squad: Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis
Season prediction: 57-25, Southeast Division title, NBA champs
How does the season play out?
Expectations are for the HEAT to easily win 60 games and run away with the Eastern Conference title this season but that won’t necessarily be the case. The HEAT will easily win the East but there are some significant challenges between them and 60+ wins.
1st Challenge: Health
The HEAT were the 6th-oldest team in the NBA last season and got older by adding Ray Allen to the rotation. Was it a good move to sign a 37 year-old coming off ankle surgery as the backup for a 31 year-old Dwyane Wade coming off arthroscopic knee surgery? At best, it was short-sighted.
Wade’s looked good in the preseason and he will put together another season as the NBA’s best shooting guard - as expected. Ray Allen’s still experiencing pain in his ankles and started off slow this preseason, shooting 10-29 from the 3-point line (35%). That’s 5% worse than his career average and worse than every 3-point shooter the HEAT already had on the roster except Shane Battier. Allen said he isn’t worried but it’s a big risk depending on a 37 year-old for significant minutes in a title run.
The HEAT will need a healthy and productive Allen to put together a rotation capable of winning 60 games this season.
2nd Challenge: Point Guard
Mario Chalmers had the best season of his career last season and he should continue to provide that level of production. The challenge is his backup, Norris Cole, who was the least productive player on the HEAT roster last season. Conventional wisdom from the Dead Basketball Poet Society says that Cole will be better this season with summer league and a full training camp, but he hasn’t looked good this preseason.
Cole’s production was so bad last season that he was actively decreasing the team’s chance of winning while he was on the floor until Coach Erik Spoelstra took him out the rotation after the All-Star break. If Cole’s going to be in the rotation this season, he’ll need to be a much improved player for the HEAT to win 60 games.
3rd Challenge: Rotation
Erik Spoelstra has experimented with the HEAT rotation for a significant number of games the last two seasons. Some of those experiments worked, like starting Chris Bosh at center, and some of them were idiotic, like starting #ShavedMonkeyNuts aka Shane Battier at power forward over Udonis Haslem. If Spo experiments with wasting minutes on Cole instead of a healthy Ray Allen, then it will cost the HEAT wins. If he continues to experiment with giving UD’s minutes to stretch-fours like #ShavedMonkeyNuts, Rashard Lewis or Josh Harrellson then it will cost the HEAT wins.
If Spoelstra puts together the right rotation of healthy players, then winning 60 games won’t be a problem for the HEAT. They’re talented enough to win 70+ games with the right combination of health and motivation, but the team’s leader has no interest in making a run at the Bulls’ record and the uptempo playing style with a roster of older players isn’t conducive to it, either. The talent is so overwhelming though, it makes it hard for Spoelstra to resist playing mad scientist with the lineup.
If he keeps it simple and plays it straight, then the HEAT can win 60 games and compete for the best record in the NBA.
How do the playoffs play out?
The HEAT’s run through the Eastern Conference should be as easy as their 2011 run, if not easier, with no series going beyond 5 games if the team is healthy. Whether or not the Finals goes more than 5 games against the Thunder depends entirely on Kevin Durant, James Harden and Scott Brooks.
Durant needs to develop his all-around game to compete with LeBron. Harden needs to develop an offensive game that can’t be taken away by defensive schemes and discipline and he needs to add the defensive prowess to compete with bigger small forwards when OKC goes to its 3-guard lineup. Scott Brooks could make things easier for them by putting them both in better matchups.
If the Thunder become better players and smarter team, then the Finals could just come down to home-court advantage. If they don’t, then it will be another title for the HEAT on their way to “not 5, not 6, not 7…” championships.